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Slow to anger and Abounding in Steadfast Love

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Readings:

  • Psalm 145: 8-14
  • Romans 7: 15-25a
  • Matthew 11: 25-30

Slow to anger and Abounding in Steadfast Love

I titled this sermon “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” as a reminder of the nature of Christ and the ideal version of every Christian. What would this world look like today, if that were a true description of every person in the world that called themselves a “Christian“? Imagine if every evangelical, every conservative, every progressive, every fundamentalist, every liberal, every Catholic, every 7th Day Adventist could say, in spirit and in truth: “I am slow to anger and abounding, overflowing, exuding steadfast love! I love God and I love my neighbor.” What would the world’s experience of Christians be if we truly followed in Christ’s footsteps?

Did you know that the word “Christian” is used 3 times in the Bible? Three times, in all of the Bible. Twice in Acts and once in 1 Peter.  Christians in this first century after Christ’s death were called such because their behavior, activity, and speech were like Christ. The word Christian means, “follower of Christ” or “belonging to the party of Christ.” One of the better known followers of Christ was the Apostle Paul, who wrote many of the letters that we now have in our Bible. These letters were directed to different communities of faith, and often were in response to specific questions that they raised in their letters. Paul was probably a more prolific writer than the disciples, as he was originally a Pharisee, a well-educated man, with an advantage that they did not have for writing.

Nevertheless, we find that Paul still struggled with some basic spiritual issues.  I want to take a moment, and read for you Romans 7, verses 15-25a from the Bible version “The Message”, because it seems to me that this version is very practical and easy to understand:

Romans 7:15-25 The Message (MSG)

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

When Paul wrote Romans, he was already 20 years into his ministry! This was no longer a young, zealous man, battling with temptations of his youth.  This was a man that had lived through trials and tribulations, who had spent most of his adult life as a missionary.  And yet, he writes to us “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not.”

What hope is there for you and me if Paul cannot get it together? Paul had many advantages over you and me: as a Pharisee he knew the 621 rules for righteousness and was well- versed in keeping them. But, just like each one of us, Paul had an ego. I imagine his ego also responded to pride, self-centeredness and selfishness!

God's grace: free & unmerited favor
God’s grace: free & unmerited favor

Paul comes back to GRACE as the solution for his battle! Knowing the law and doing his best to keep the law was not enough. Without grace, Paul was just as lost as the next person. In verse 25 of Romans 7, Paul says “Christ can and does”: it is not I, but Christ that lives in me that allows me to live out a holy life.

Last week, I used the example of the worm inside the apple, an egg laid inside the apple blossom that hatches inside the apple when it is maturing. Sin can be like that in our lives: we are growing and maturing and suddenly find that a bad habit or attitude has been growing and maturing inside of us as well.

Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.

God is looking on the inside: Your Heart!
God is looking on the inside: Your Heart!

Right now, I am at my heaviest weight ever! Even at eight and a half months pregnant, I weighed less than I do now! The weight was distributed differently then, and I felt much healthier than I do right now! And six months after my daughter was born, I was at my perfect weight! Then life happened! I excuse myself with the sleepless nights, the busy lifestyle, and the responsibilities that I have chosen to assume. The unfortunate reality is that I dislike, okay… it’s a little stronger than dislike… I despise getting up at 5.30 in the morning to do exercise!

I know what I need to do in order to get fit and healthy again! I have had, for the past three years, the good intention of staying healthy: eating right, doing the right exercises, and making my health a priority. And yet, I keep sabotaging my own plans and best intentions! Like Paul, I obviously need help! I can will myself to do the exercise and keep to the diet, but then I don’t do it! Can you hear Paul’s words from Romans 7:

I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good (get fit and eat healthy), sin (food, laziness, lack of motivation) is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands (having my ideal weight and feeling healthy), but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge (and there I am, sitting down with a cheesecake!).

Everyone has an excuse and a scapegoat! This past week, I blamed it on Betsy for showing up with a gluten-free cheesecake. But the reality is that I have a sugar-tooth, and suffer from insulin resistance. I can either choose to take medications and live a healthy lifestyle, making diet choices that take me back to optimal health; or I can cheat and double the medication and not do the exercise and diet; or I can do nothing at all as I have been doing for the past 12 to 18 months! Last week, I decided to do 21 days of getting up at 5.30 and doing a 30-minute workout and stretching!

Doing right is a titanic struggle and an uphill struggle; doing wrong is a short step or a minor slip. The Chinese says, “Doing right requires ten years, doing bad requires just one minute.” The previous Chinese generation says, “Kids take three days to learn bad, three years to learn good.” Some have modified to say kids take three minutes or even there seconds to learn bad.

In truth, practice what you preach is easier said than done. The good you intend to do ends up not just merely bad, faulty or short, but evil (vv 19, 21) – sin’s Murphy’s Law equivalent: If anything can go wrong, it will. Not only wrong, but wicked and wasted.

For me, the solution to this issue lies in keeping my eyes focused on what I what I want my life to look like. Each morning when I arrive in the office, I look at my vision board: it reminds me of the different areas of my life and what I would like my life to look like if I were living to my fullest. There’s a heading “my best body” – showing healthy food, running, resting, stretching, and fitness! And I have been ignoring that section of the board since January!

Spiritually, there’s also a vision: plugged into the power of prayer! Paul says in Romans 7: 25 that the answer lies in that Christ can and does: Paul thanks God for being patient with him. As David says in Psalm 145, verse 8:

“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

This grace allows us to say:

“Thank you that even though I’m a mess, you still love me and you are still striving with me and you want to make me something more today that I was yesterday.”

We are loved by God and God is willing to take us just as we are! With Christ within us, God works from the inside out to transform us. We are forgiven from the inside out! If God has forgiven us, we can forgive ourselves.

Keep this small image in mind:

How did you learn to walk? Have you ever seen a little one learning to walk. They don’t get up and just start walking the first time they try. They crawl for awhile. They pull themselves up and take one step and fall back – up again and fall forward. Soon they are taking a couple of steps before they fall. And they walk, and they fall, and they pull themselves back up again, and they totter and they fall.

Life as a Christian, with each new step of the way, is a new learning. As you overcome one challenge, there will always be something new. Paul reminds us to “work through our salvation”, because it is a constant process of growth. We are free from the penalty of sin, but we need Christ in us to be free from the power of sin.

But we remember and we meditate on Psalm 145, verse 8:

“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

And if Christ is in us, then each of us should be able to look in the mirror and say: “I am gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!” Imagine a world in which that were the description of each of us!

Let’s pray!